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The sites for sounds 

A curated guide to essential local concert venues

click to enlarge music.jpg

Location is everything when it comes to seeing music performed live. Of course, the quality of the music is important, too. But the venue can make or break the concert experience. Here are the Rochester concert spots worth visiting. From superior acoustics to comfortable atmospheres to diverse stylistic options, these venues hit the mark.

Abilene Bar & Lounge

153 Liberty Pole Way
585-232-3230
abilenebarandlounge.com

Abilene Bar & Lounge should be the first stop for anyone looking to enjoy live Americana, folk, and roots rock artists. There's just something about this small venue, nestled downtown near Eastman School of Music: the subtle country-western decor and style; the way the line between stage and audience seems to blur. Most importantly, there's the high caliber of musicians that owner Danny Deutsch brings to the club. Whether the artist in question is an unsung hero among fans in-the-know, a road warrior passing through, or a promising young local musician or band, Abilene shows rarely disappoint.

Anthology

336 East Avenue
585-484-1964
anthologylive.com

Anthology is the Rochester rock venue where you can hear high-profile touring artists and local favorites on the rise. A polished mid-size venue with an open layout, concerts here feel like must-see events. While general admission ticketing can make for a crowded main floor, there is ample room for people to enjoy bleacher-type seating or to hang back closer to the bar. In addition to hosting popular alternative, rock, and jam bands, musicians from the worlds of country, metal, and jazz can feel equally welcome playing to the enthusiastic audiences. Plus, there's an extended bar area, a coat check, and anticipation in the air.

click to enlarge A show at Anthology, in full swing - PHOTO BY AARON WINTERS
  • PHOTO BY AARON WINTERS
  • A show at Anthology, in full swing

Bop Shop Records

1460 Monroe Avenue
585-271-3354
bopshop.com

Bop Shop Records is the quintessential listening room. Boasting laid-back vibes and an impressive inventory of vinyl records, this record store hosts a full slate of concerts year-round. Owner Tom Kohn has turned the shop into the place for elite-level live jazz in Rochester. Touring musicians from New York City and elsewhere frequently stop through, and the store also serves as home to Dan Gross's Rochester Indie Musician Spotlight series. If your idea of a great concert experience is listening intently in a quiet setting surrounded by other live music devotees, Bop Shop will likely be your jam.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY AARON WINTERS
  • PHOTO BY AARON WINTERS

Kilbourn Hall at Eastman School of Music

26 Gibbs Street
585-274-3000
eastmantheatre.org

Classical aficionados who love chamber music concerts need look no further than Kilbourn Hall at Eastman School of Music. The 444-seat room features warm but precise acoustics, as well as elegant design features that recall the Venetian Renaissance. Kilbourn Hall regularly bears witness to top-of-the-line performances by internationally renowned instrumentalists and vocalists. In addition to string quartet programs, solo piano recitals, and art song presentations, jazz and world music performances are a fixture at the hall, as are performances by student ensembles such as Eastman Opera Theatre and Musica Nova. 

click to enlarge Kilbourn Hall - PHOTO BY MICHELLE MARTORELL, EASTMAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC
  • PHOTO BY MICHELLE MARTORELL, EASTMAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC
  • Kilbourn Hall

Photo City Improv

543 Atlantic Avenue
585-451-0047
photocityimprov.com

Photo City Improv is a bit of an anomaly. At first glance, the venue — with its extensive floor space and built-in dance floor — appears more suited to hosting comedy shows, lounge acts, and even private social gatherings. But the eclectic concert space has become an enclave for some of Rochester's most interesting niche music scenes. Punk and metal music, and even touring EDM and dubstep artists have all found a home here. Photo City also hosts rock and Americana concerts, as well as artists whose music often falls between the stylistic cracks. Open daily, the Improv has endearing Goth-punk vibes and a cozy bar that's practically within arm's length as soon as you walk through the door.

Record Archive

33 1/3 Rockwood Street
585-244-1210
recordarchive.com

Record Archive has been a fixture for Rochesterians looking to bliss out to some new music since 1975. But it wasn't until the store opened its Backroom Lounge in 2017 that it became a go-to spot for live music events. A great place to showcase Rochester bands celebrating album releases or other milestones, the Lounge also features a bar with an extensive beer selection. Record Archive concerts are typically free, and of course, are conveniently located to an extensive collection of vinyl, CDs, and cassette tapes for sale.

Skylark Lounge

40 South Union Street
585-270-8106
theskylarkounge.com

If any Rochester bar flies under the radar as a quality place to hear live rock music, it's Skylark Lounge on South Union Street. Though Skylark has an unassuming, neighborhood feel to it, there's plenty of space to accommodate a capacity crowd of bar-goers and music lovers in one uncluttered, yet intimate room (plus a back patio ideal for breath of fresh air). There's an elevated stage and plenty of room in front to dance like crazy, as well as some table seating for those who want to observe from afar or sample some of Skylark's signature meatballs (vegetarian option available). Although there is no dedicated sound person and performers must take a DIY approach to the sound system, Skylark shows percolate with energy and musical integrity. 

click to enlarge The Mighty High & Dry at Skylark Lounge - PHOTO BY AARON WINTERS
  • PHOTO BY AARON WINTERS
  • The Mighty High & Dry at Skylark Lounge

Small World Books

425 North Street
585-232-6970
facebook.com/SmallWorldBooks

Small World Books has become much more than just a quaint and welcoming used book store. It also serves as a regular venue for suggested-donation concerts, socio-political discussions, and community events. The atmosphere resembles that of a bustling house show, complete with suggested-donation admission to support the performers. Shows typically feature sets that oscillate between the book-filled main room and the basement; performance styles range between indie rock, hip-hop, singer-songwriter, jazz, experimental, and even comedy. When hearing talented touring musicians you're encountering for the first time or local artists with a dedicated following, Small World Books feels like home.

click to enlarge Copper Hill at Small World Books - PHOTO BY AARON WINTERS
  • PHOTO BY AARON WINTERS
  • Copper Hill at Small World Books

Three Heads Brewing

186 Atlantic Avenue
585-244-1224
threeheadsbrewing.com

Three Heads Brewing and its music curator Geoff Dale have carved out a niche all its own as a venue committed to presenting local musicians. With concerts three days a week, this popular local brewery boasts a fun-loving atmosphere and no shortage of flavorful beers on tap to enjoy while you take in the sounds. Fans of singer-songwriters, Americana, rock, funk, and soul can stop in any week of the year to hear music created right here in Rochester. Three Heads is also known for its monthly Rochester Residency series, in which one local musician presents a distinctly curated concert each Thursday. This series typically includes numerous opportunities to hear artists you know paying tribute to iconic musicians and influential albums.

Other notable venues

Bug Jar
219 Monroe Avenue
585-454-2966
bugjar.com

The Little Theatre Café
240 East Avenue
585-258-0400
thelittle.org/music

Lovin' Cup
300 Park Point Drive, Suite 101
585-292-9940
lovincup.com

Montage Music Hall
55 Chestnut Street
montagemusichall.com

Water Street 2020 204 North Water Street
471-8916
waterstreet2020.com

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